Oceana calls on European Parliament to reform deep-sea fisheries management

Deep-sea species account for only 1% of North-East Atlantic catches, but carry huge environmental costs

Press Release Date: November 4, 2013

Location: Madrid


Marta Madina | email: mmadina@oceana.org | tel.: Marta Madina

Oceana urges the European Parliament Fisheries Committee to vote today in favour of strong management measures for North-East Atlantic deep-sea fisheries, to end overfishing and protect vulnerable marine ecosystems. EU deep-sea fisheries in this region are currently managed under weak legislation from 2002, which has left many stocks overfished and ecosystems such as deep-sea corals and sponges unprotected from damaging fishing gears such as bottom trawls and gillnets. One of the key measures to be voted upon this afternoon in Brussels is the phase-out of these two gear types for targeting deep-sea species, because of their high associated levels of environmental damage and bycatch.

The EU has made international commitments for sustainable deep-sea fisheries management that it has not yet fulfilled in its own waters, and it’s time for a serious overhaul,” stated Xavier Pastor, executive director of Oceana in Europe. “It’s unacceptable that in the 21st Century, the EU fleet is permitted to use deep-sea trawlers that decimate corals with their heavy nets, catch large quantities of threatened species as by-catch, and discard half of what they catch.”

Weaknesses of the 2002 regulation, also known as the ‘deep-sea access regime’, have long been recognised, with the European Commission noting the inadequacy of the regulation and its implementation as early as 2007. It covers only 24 of the roughly 100 deep-sea species which are actually caught in the region; of these, 18 species are now considered to be overfished and if caught, cannot be kept, landed, or sold. The regulation lays out no pre-requisites for access to the fishery, no requirements for the EU to follow scientific advice about levels of fishing, and no measures to protect threatened species or vulnerable marine ecosystems.

Oceana calls upon member of the Fisheries Committee to support measures that would:

  • Extend management to more captured species and protect vulnerable species such as deep-sea sharks
  • Require the EU to adhere to science-based, precautionary levels of fishing, with explicit consideration of associated impacts on non-target and most vulnerable species.
  • Reduce fishing impacts on vulnerable ecosystems, and non-target species, including the requirement for impact assessments prior to authorising fishing, protection of threatened species, reduction of by-catch, and restriction of damaging bottom fishing gears
  • Improve data collection, reporting, and compliance by fishing vessels and by EU Member States

Deep-sea species are typically long-lived and slow-growing, which means that damaged corals, or overfished stocks are very slow to recover, if they recover at all,” added Dr. Allison Perry, marine wildlife scientist with Oceana in Europe. “With animals such as these, the stakes are simply too high to justify gambling on continued weak management that has already been demonstrated to have failed.

The vote today is an important step in the legislative process towards revising the deep-sea access regime, and comes after months of fishing industry-driven delays. The report adopted by the Fisheries Committee will then pass to the wider European Parliament, which is scheduled to vote on the issue later this year. The Council has not yet begun its work on the file, despite having highlighted it as a priority issue nearly one year ago, apparently due to pressure from some Member States who oppose stronger management and conservation measures.